April 10, 2007

"Did Cole not do a preemption check before writing his op-ed?"

An anonymous comment at Above the Law tweaks Georgetown Lawprof David Cole. The post itself consists of David Lat saying he's bored with the old topic of laptops in the law school classroom. Haven't we all already said what we have to say? (Here's my old post, written last year, and grousing that it's an "old topic.")

To be a little fair to Cole, he does report survey results:
How does banning laptops work in practice? My own sense has been that my class is much more engaged than recent past classes. I'm biased, I know. So I conducted an anonymous survey of my students after about six weeks -- by computer, of course.

The results were striking. About 80 percent reported that they are more engaged in class discussion when they are laptop-free. Seventy percent said that, on balance, they liked the no-laptop policy. And perhaps most surprising, 95 percent admitted that they use their laptops in class for "purposes other than taking notes, such as surfing the Web, checking e-mail, instant messaging and the like." Ninety-eight percent reported seeing fellow students do the same.
Assuming no defects in the survey -- actually, I'd like to see the whole thing -- I wonder why students don't voluntarily set the laptops aside if they are so happy without them? Are they helpless addicts who require compulsory rules to do what they want to do? Or do they like the exclusion of tools they worry that other students might be using more effectively? Maybe the 30 percent who don't like the no-laptop policy are ace note-takers on the keyboard who feel awkward and disabled handling a pen.

Why are law types so fond of rules and repression? It makes me sick.

22 comments:

Andrew said...

I'm not a law student, but a grad student in public affairs...I know that without a laptop I'd be completely lost in class.

I suspect, Ms. Althouse, that as an advocate of the traditional socratic method of teaching law, you would enjoy the fact that I spend most of my class time on my laptop not only taking notes, but doing real-time lookups of facts and assertions that my professors make so I can challenge them if I find them lacking. If they don't think I'm paying attention, they are free to challenge me, but the laptop helps me think on my feet.

David said...

Rodney Dangerfield addressed this situation in 1986 when he had a steno sit in on a college class for him and take verbatim notes for transcription.

It is called multi-tasking and can be useful to those who know how to type quietly. It would be extremely bad taste to hear "YOU HAVE MAIL" when someone forgets to turn off the sound when starting up the laptop in the middle of a presentation. Cell phones have there own etiquette also.

Old news! Cole must be suffering from writers block as it is not a slow news day.

Hazy Dave said...

Also, surfing the web and writing e-mails when they're supposed to be doing something else is good preparation for the workplace...

Oops, here comes the boss!

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

How many students are using their class time to do homework assignments for class. either the one they're in or another, and basically consider the time the spend in the classroom wasted otherwise?

Here's a good alternative- allow laptops, but remove the mandatory attendance policy. Dump in class assignments and participation grades. Email assignments to the students and allow them to email work. If a verbal presentation is due email the student to require attendance.

Isn't the whole idea to impart information to the student, and then find out how much of that info they have retained?

Isn't anything other than teaching and testing overly onerous?

Kevin Lomax said...

I'm pro laptop. On the otherhand, I think the note takers can be just as problematic as the game players and web surfers.

http://boredlaw.blogspot.com/2007/03/law-school-gripe-1.html

nick danger said...

I'm one of those who can type about five times faster than I can write and who would have been very disadvantaged without a laptop. Of course, I also know it was abused by many who used it to IM and email and look at inappropriate websites.

I think a reasonable compromise would be: no wireless access, only wired ports available in the desk, which go through a proxy that can, at the instructor's discretion, allow everything, block access to everything except a whitelist of websites, like West, Lexis, Wikipedia, and so on, or block everything.

hdhouse said...

just a question of practicality...

would it be so awful to consider dividing the class into various segments?

for instance there is a "basic body" of information that could involve notetaking, etc., that would permit laptops...

then there could be a section of class time that was for Q&A, discussion...NO laptops...put your pencils down...talk, think on your feet...

Is that impossible?

Smilin' Jack said...

Why are law types so fond of rules and repression?

A classic example of a question that answers itself.

Sharon said...

I'm a senior undergraduate student starting law school in the fall. I think the usefulness of a laptop depends on the type of class that the professor is running that particular day. During discussions, I'm absolutely more engaged without the distraction of my laptop. However, if the class that day is primarily lecture, taking notes with a pen is crippling. It's simply more efficient to type notes.

Triangle Man said...

Can't this issue be generalized to the use of laptops by members of an audience at any lecture, or participants in any meeting? I wonder how many law profs bring internet connected devices to faculty meetings. How about using a laptop during a conference?

Bill said...

"...Ninety-eight percent reported seeing fellow students do the same."

And the other two percent need to have their eyes checked.

hdhouse said...

ahhhhh a solution:

IBM's VIA Voice is cheap and works very very well if you spend some time with it. put the mic out close the lap top, voice to text, student can be enthralled all at the same time....

isn't technology grand?

HaloJonesFan said...

I don't have a problem with laptops during lectures...but then, I consider lectures to be a disgusting waste of time in the first place.

Kevin L. Connors said...

Ann:

I wonder why students don't voluntarily set the laptops aside if they are so happy without them?

Interestingly, I was just reading a transcript of a speech by P.J. O'Rourke, who is out touting his new book, On the Wealth of Nations. And what strikes me here - something I think you would know, Ann, is that, given absolute freedom of choice, individuals don't always act in their own best self interest. This is particularly true of law school students - most of whom are only in their early twenties.

Another thing that struck me, in reading Prof. Cole's post, was envy. He seems to have a very engaging and interactive style. And it's quite possible that, given the choice, and full knowledge of what they'd be losing out on through slavish devotion to their laptops, a largely computer-less classroom might evolve organically.

I've recently returned to school, at the JC level, to fill-out and update my education. My SQL prof's lectures are a series of endless digressions and chuckle-fests, my chemistry professor just transcribes highlights from the text on the blackboard. Hence, I seldom even attend lecture.

Kevin L. Connors said...

nick danger:

I think a reasonable compromise would be: no wireless access, only wired ports available in the desk, which go through a proxy that can, at the instructor's discretion, allow everything, block access to everything except a whitelist of websites, like West, Lexis, Wikipedia, and so on, or block everything.

Isn't that pretty much the default situation? Save for that the school could be Wi-Fi - Ethernet isn't necessary. Unless the campus is in oneof those rare towns which is Wi-Fi enabled, or they've got a rather expensive Sprint or Cingular cellular data link, as well as expensive personal subscriptions to services like West and Lexus, they'd have to be going through the school's server.

Jinnmabe said...

given absolute freedom of choice, individuals don't always act in their own best self interest.

Therefore the beneficent law school must step in to force these adults--who will, in a short period of time, be entrusted with, and asked, nay, required to exercise their good judgment to protect, other people's marriages, children, vital financial affairs and even freedom-- to use the "good judgment" that they apparently disdain when given the choice.

If that doesn't inspire you about the future of the law in this country, nothing will.

Kevin L. Connors said...

So, by that logic, the adults that this nation will shortly entrust with its very defense, should be given free choice of how to stand in formation, or, for that matter, even whether or not to participate in Basic Training at all, right?

Jeff said...

I take notes from a keyboard considerably faster than using paper and pen, plus it has the advantage of me being about to read it afterwards. Now if this was high school, I would wire a monitor cable to each station and set a multi switch to display each screen at random, say for 2 seconds, up on a large screen behind the teacher. Since this is law school and everyone is presumably a adult AND are paying for the privilege of attending class, then they should be able to decide how much they want to pass the class.

nick danger said...

Isn't that pretty much the default situation?

No - the default is that the IT department implements the technology and the lecturer has virtually no control over it. They key feature is to be able to change the level of internet access at the lecturer's discretion. And using wired ethernet is important because it is the only simple way to quickly and easily verify that a single individual is disconnected, which may desirable in certain circumstances.

Jinnmabe said...

So, by that logic, the adults that this nation will shortly entrust with its very defense, should be given free choice of how to stand in formation, or, for that matter, even whether or not to participate in Basic Training at all, right?

What? You're going to have to explain to me what relation forcing law students to not type during class has to being a soldier. Are you really equating the two? "Hey, in the Army you have to follow all sorts of orders, so you might as well have to in all other areas of life." This makes perfect sense to you, ne?

Kevin L. Connors said...

The analogy is a simple one. I'm sure virtually all readers of this blog will agree that being a successful attorney requires a certain level of discipline - surely more than most professions, albeit not so great as that of a military person (especially those involved in direct combat operations). I'm also quite sure all would agree that, no matter their professional direction, kids under 25 are generally lacking in self-discipline.

Well, any behaviorist worth their salt will tell you that self-discipline rarely develops spontaneously - it is almost always developed out of enforced discipline.

Thus, just as a level of enforced discipline is essential on the parade grounds, it is essential in the law school classroom.

Roger said...

Everybody's comments come from their own perspectives, obviously. But the professor is charged with teaching and how should be his perogative. Now of course it impacts each student differently, but it is the class format that may matter to him. Their individual talents that got them there, may not be the ones that are needed in jobs, and if one expects people to go into their jobs completely wired... well that will be another lesson. Maybe nuff said, from not a lawyer, not a prof...

Not to mention that there are other technologies that could cover some of the tasks, ala Dangerfiled. or field.